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GO warns of more delays



A GO train passes cars on the Don Valley Expressway in this file image.

January 02, 2007
Curtis Rush
Staff Reporter

GO Train commuters along the lakeshore line can expect more short delays today - and for the rest of the week - after 34 engineer jobs were eliminated Dec. 30.

CN, which supplies crews for GO Transit, said the delays are being caused by engineers upset with the decision to have to drive the locomotives without a partner.

GO Transit reported delays of 10 to 15 minutes on about seven trips this morning, affecting as many as 7,000 commuters.

About 14 GO Bus trips were also cancelled, but GO Transit says that issue is separate. The system is reportedly short about 30 drivers and it will take at least another week before that number is hired.

GO Transit asked CN to eliminate 34 engineers as a cost-saving move, and the union filed a grievance.

However, a federal arbitrator supported CN’s move and approved the elimination of those jobs.

The 34 engineers will be reassigned in CN’s freight system.

CN supplies train crews to six of seven GO Transit lines. The Milton line is crewed by CP and there were no delays today.

“We are doing this at the request of GO,” CN spokesman Mark Hallman said of the job cuts.

He blamed the delays, lasting anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, on job action.

“It’s a bit of a protest,” Hallman said.

He said CN has employed supervisors in the field to make sure there are no further labour problems. He said employees who violate the collective bargaining agreement could be disciplined.

The engineering union denies such charges.

Joe Lucifora, local chairman of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference for Toronto South, said he would not condone such action.

“We are professional,” he said, adding that the engineers have two years to go on their contract and ruled out any wildcat strike over the job losses.

Lucifora said the delays have been caused by tieups at the dispatch office.

Engineers who have been bumped are required to phone the dispatcher to request reassignment within the CN freight rail system.

“Everybody has to phone the crew office to make intentions known about where the next job you’ll go to,” union chairman Lucifora said.

“The crew office has been overwhelmed with calls. We’ve had almost no luck in getting in touch with the crew dispatchers to make our intentions known to go to the next assignment.”

Some employees were having trouble getting through, he said.

A man who answered the phone in the CN dispatch office told a Toronto Star reporter that the lines have been busy all day.

Hallman denied this, saying that the management and communication systems at CN were not bogged down.

The engineers were eliminated only on the Lakeshore line, which is the busiest corridor in the system.

Hallman said CN did a risk assessment and safety analysis and decided there would be no safety concerns as a result of the cutback. He also said Transport Canada had no issues with the job losses.

Prior to this cutback, there were two locomotive engineers, a conductor and an assistant conduct on the lakeshore trains.

Under the new arrangement, an assistant conductor will move to the locomotive to act as “a second set of eyes” on trains going east from Union Station only, Hallman said.

Lucifora argued that an assistant conductor is not trained to operate a locomotive.

Eastbound trains are pulled by the locomotive while westbound trains are pushed.

Westbound trains have needed only one engineer, the CN spokesperson said.

Last week, unions representing CN conductors and engineers lost a battle when a federal arbitrator in Ottawa ruled that CN was within its rights in the collective bargaining agreement to eliminate the 34 positions by the end of December.

Lucifora, the local chairman representing the engineers, said a top-rated engineer earns about $70,000 in salary, while a top-rated conductor would earn about $65,000 a year.

Based on a salary of $70,000, GO Transit would cut more than $2 million a year in salary with the move.

GO Transit spokesperson Ed Shea was unavailable for comment.

Lucifora, the chairman of the engineers union in Toronto, said commuters would be fooled into thinking the delays will last only this week.

Lucifora said two engineers are needed, especially at the turnaround sites in Burlington and Oshawa, and having one engineer will mean that delays will be ongoing.